I remember when I left Mitsubishi Corporation 2o (!) years’ ago, I was surprised how friendly some of my most senior Japanese sponsors continued to be towards me. One of them explained to me that he thought Mitsubishi Corporation should think like McKinsey and view employees who leave as “alumni” who might one day come back and work there again, or end up as business partners or customers.
It was very far sighted, and I often joke that he was right in that Mitsubishi Corporation does seem to have become a McKinsey with a venture capital/investment arm attached. Mitsubishi’s arch rival Mitsui Bussan also seems to have gone down this path, according to an article in the Nikkei Business magazine recently.
They have set up a separate office called Moon Creative Lab in Tokyo and Palo Alto to look for new business opportunities in the IoT and AI sectors, inviting ideas from their 44,000 employees around the world. Mitsui also hosts networking events, inviting alumni who head up start ups in Japan such as atama plus, Shippio, Nature, Sansan and B Platz.
Mitsui continues to be popular with top Japanese graduates but they only hire around 130 a year, compared to over 200 at the end of the Bubble Era. They have also found that their retention rate has worsened in recent years. Luring alumni back in to create businesses that are not in its traditional sectors is seen as one way to move away from its dependency on resource and commodities businesses. For example, Yusuke Tamura, who was a graduate hire in the metals division in 2004 but left in 2014. He started up a fashion brand as CEO but parted ways with the founding partner. He returned to Mitsui in 2016 and is now working on the restructuring of Mitsui’s catering business.
Mitsui was always characterised as being more about “people” than Mitsubishi, who was more about “organisation”. The idea was that to get things done at Mitsui, it was about who you knew, whereas Mitsubishi worked in a more organisation driven way. So Mitsui is making use of who they know outside the company as much as inside – and maybe even outside Japan?
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